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Science fiction and predictions
But the task of science fiction is not to predict the future. Rather, it contemplates possible futures. Writers may find the future appealing precisely because it can’t be known, a black box where “anything at all can be said to happen without fear of contradiction from a native,” says the renowned novelist and poet Ursula K. Le Guin. “The future is a safe, sterile laboratory for trying out ideas in,” she tells Smithsonian, “a means of thinking about reality, a method.”
"Predicting the Present", Diane Coutu
Science fiction author Frederik Pohl said that sci-fi writers don’t predict the automobile—they predict the traffic jam.
That’s a really interesting position for him to take, because I don’t think that science fiction writers predict the future. Science fiction has always been about the present, even when it’s dressed in futuristic trappings. We write stories that try to address the effect of technology on society and vice versa. Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, was not predicting that in the future we would all build men out of corpses and animate them with lightning. Her point was that we might become technology’s servants rather than its masters. She wasn’t really being predictive. She was worrying about the present.
"Introduction" (not sure to what), Ursula K. Le Guin
Science fiction is not predictive; it is descriptive.
Predictions are uttered by prophets (free of charge); by clairvoyants (who usually charge a fee, and are therefore more honored in their day than prophets); and by futurologists (salaried). Prediction is the business of prophets, clairvoyants, and futurologists. It is not the business of novelists. A novelist's business is lying.
Asimov was a scientist and a writer, and even though his scientific background informed his fiction, making accurate predictions in science-fiction stories is not what sci-fi is about. In fact, it's a common misconception that science fiction attempts to predict the future. It's an easy assumption to make; science is a relatively strict discipline, after all, and anything associated with it must therefore be rooted in facts and evidence. Well, yes, that's true, but just because science fiction is a literature that leverages science doesn't mean it has to ignore the rules and demands of fiction, nor the whims of the person writing it. The simple truth is that predicting the future is not what science-fiction writers set out to do.
A writer's main focus is on writing a story. Stories are set in the future because it's a great way to remove readers from the familiarity and comfort of "now" and give them the unique perspective of someone looking in from the outside. Literature even has a fancy name for this: cognitive estrangement. It forces you to question what you are seeing in a story even though, more than likely, it is merely a reflection not of the future, but of today. Setting the story in the future is a convenient and illustrative way of making you, the reader, an outside observer. In other words, science fiction forces us to look at ourselves through the eyes of others.
If you are a writer who is setting your story in the future, then one of your jobs has to be making that future noticeably different than the present day. The degree to which you make that future different will obviously vary on how far into the future the story is set. A book set 25 years from now may feature a world that still looks recognizable, but one set a million years from now may look more foreign. The writer needs to come up with story elements to portray that future, be they cool gadgets or creatures, societal norms or unheard-of technologies. All of them are discrete parts that combine together to depict "another world"—something for which science fiction is known.
The difference between predicting the future and a writer including these elements in their stories is subtle. When predicting the future, the focus is on accuracy. Futurists can use historical trends and current situations to extrapolate where technology is heading. They look at current and emerging technologies to support their predictions and make a reasonable projection as to where that technology is headed. Writers can use extrapolation as well, but the focus is not so much on accurately predicting the future as it is on making up a future that serves the story, which is their primary focus. Saying science-fiction writers are predictors of the future is thus a bit of a misnomer. A better way of looking at this is that a futurist predicts the future but a science fiction writer invents it.
Italics added by me. If you are aware of any other interesting quotes on this topic, say from Verne, Wells... Please let me know.
Created: 16 January, 2015 - Last changed: 29 April, 2016 - Comments (0)